Chris Schneider, Food and Beverage Manager at Aquarius backpacker in Byron Bay.
Chris Schneider, Food and Beverage Manager at Aquarius backpacker in Byron Bay. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Aquarius manager fined $7000, put on bond for licence breach

THE manager of Byron Bay's Aquarius Backpackers has been fined $7000 and put on an 18-month good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to breaching the hostel's liquor licence.

Christopher David Schneider yesterday pleaded guilty to two penalty notices for breaching the hostel's liquor licence after earlier indicating he planned to fight them.

Aquarius voluntarily closed its bar in June after the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing accused it of licence breaches detected in covert inspections during April and May.

The backpacker's liquor licence allowed it to sell alcohol to guests of the hostel and their guests and to people eating at the hostels restaurant.

However, inspectors said they were not only able to buy alcohol without eating (they were given a voucher for a sausage sandwich with their first drink) and not being guests of the hotel, but, on another inspection, were able to buy two shots of tequila and were told "you can shoot that".

The office said the sale of alcohol and the tequila shots in particular breached not only Aquarius' licence but trial rules put in place by the Byron Bay Liquor Accord, to which it was a signatory, aimed at reducing alcohol-related anti-social conduct in the town.

In June, Aquarius owner Harry Chua denied the backpackers hostel had knowingly breached any regulations and accused the office of placing staff under "substantial stress" with its "onerous" reporting requirements.

"Undercovers came into the premises and purchased a light meal from the barbecue," Mr Chua said in a statement in June.

"They had their wrist stamped and proceeded to purchase alcohol.

"Apparently we did the wrong thing as they had not eaten their food.

"To get our staff to monitor whether meals purchased are actually eaten, whether food is spat out or swallowed, is going beyond their job description.

"We're all stressed every night wondering what may happen (with inspections)."

However, the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing compliance director Paul Newson said inspectors told staff at the hostel when they ordered their drinks they had no intention of eating.

In a statement released this morning, Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing slammed Aquarius, saying it was crucial businesses stick to the terms of their alcohol licences.

"This is particularly important in venues like Aquarius Backpackers which attract many young people and in communities like Byron Bay which are working to control alcohol-related problems," Mr Newson was quoted saying in the statement.

"The fact that Aquarius Backpackers not only breached the requirements of its licence but also the trial liquor accord terms it agreed to uphold in writing demonstrated a poor compliance culture and lack of serious commitment to helping reduce alcohol-related harm in Byron Bay."

As well as receiving a good behaviour bond and a $7000 fine, Mr Schneider was ordered to pay $660 in professional costs.

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